With so many great options competing for higher ed’s dollars, selecting the best cloud service for a particular university can be daunting. Yet with a few crucial steps taken long before the point of sale, the right cloud-based software solution needn’t remain elusive. Jeff Alderson, principal analyst for enterprise software at Eduventures, offers the following best practices to help universities prepare:
- Get true factual requirements in order by assembling stakeholders across the institution. “Before you start considering products, consider your requirements for the business process,” he advises. Don’t work in a vacuum: Get the opinion of everyone that the transition will affect and find out what they are looking for.
- Audit all pertinent institutional policies. “Every institution has a different legal or policy requirement for their systems, their infrastructure,” says Alderson. Often, colleges will need to discard, update or replace outdated policies governing data transfer and storage.
- Pin down the numbers. “The biggest issue we’ve had with institutions evaluating cloud-based solutions is evaluating total cost of ownership,” says Alderson. “Currently, there is no standard pricing model for cloud-based services.” SaaS is often priced as a subscription, so costs can fluctuate more than with on-premise stationary systems; institutions need a clear picture of what they need and what they can spend to get there.
Know the Real Benefits of Cloud Migration
Like any buzzword, “the cloud” has attracted a variety of assumptions. Many associate it almost automatically with remote or mobile access and collaboration.
Alderson, however, challenges that assumption. He points to the numerous on-premises technology systems, from a variety of vendors, that provide application program interfaces, web services and mobile options and run a web-service layer that supports access and collaboration without moving data to the cloud.
“I do find, however, that the speed of implementation and deployment of new features — and the ability to get new innovations in the hands of end users for more rapid adoption — absolutely does happen in the cloud,” he says.
Through his research, Alderson has defined eight key attributes of cloud application services that he says truly differentiate the cloud from its earthbound competitors:
- Flexible, adaptable system that supports automation and agility
- Support for flexible online programs and engagement models
- Real-time data analysis and data integrity
- Flexible deployment options (provision-based rather than installation-based)
- Mobile and social enhancements for data collection and engagement
- Improved faculty, staff and student experience
- Less expensive and less disruptive implementation
- Reduced institutional burden for maintenance
These, Alderson says, are the reasons that universities should consider heading to the cloud.
The Future of Cloud in Higher Education
Even with the great leaps that have taken place in cloud-based technology, there’s still room for innovations that will benefit higher education users.
Alderson cites lecture capture as an example. Typically, lecture capture pairs with hardware in a classroom that saves the material locally. Increasingly, however, lectures are heading to the cloud, and even the instructor may no longer be required to be on campus.
“People have this misconception that online learning is all the students online, in Starbucks, on their laptops or phones, taking a class,” says Alderson. “People fail to realize that online learning also might mean that the faculty member is broadcasting from a remote or online position. There hasn’t been a lot of innovation — yet — in cloud services for the ability to capture high quality with good bandwidth for the presenter where they’re remote as well.”
Whether for innovations on the horizon or for the range of capabilities already attainable through SaaS, now is the time to embrace cloud technologies.